Ole Miss opened spring practices on Wednesday

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met the media to preview spring practices Thursday afternoon. Full transcript included.

Opening Statement: We’re extremely excited about getting Year 5 going here at Ole Miss. I can't believe it's actually the fifth year already. I was talking to Coach Jackson on the practice field yesterday, and it's gone so fast. We're excited about spring ball. Our signing class this year, extremely excited that we have several mid-year enrollees that come in that we need to add to depth to us in certain spots and to get a good look at them. That's a huge advantage with mid-year enrollees to be here to get to work. We've added to that class two young men at a position of need for us at linebacker. Yesterday we got Rommel Mageo from Oregon State. He's going to be a graduate transfer. Today we signed Detric Bing-Dukes out of Iowa Western, a Georgia transfer. We're really excited about that those two additions for us. Recruiting never ends as you know, so we're constantly looking. We've got a couple of other guys that we're looking at and bringing in on official visits very soon to see if they fit with us and we can convince them to be Ole Miss Rebels. Our theme this year for spring ball, as you know we always have one, it's called uncommon man. It's from Tony Dungy's writings. This week it's to carefully speak about the words that you speak. They're painting a picture for you. Is that picture what you want it to be as a man? Our coaches, one of the things we have to do with them is share true life stories of when we didn't get that exactly right. It's been quite entertaining hearing some of those stories. We've also talked to them about going from being committed to compelled. We've obviously playing in two consecutive New Year's Six games creates expectations. In order to maintain that here, I think that's another step that we all need to go. There are things that we as coaches need to continue to improve on as well as our players. I continue to believe very strongly the league we play in and the schedule that we will play will challenge you greatly, but I also believe that there are quality enough players on our team and our opponents' teams that either team could win. One of the deciding factors when you take out all the turnovers and deciding factors is chemistry. That's one of the great things about spring ball. I believe it can help start laying the foundation of who your team is going to be in the locker room and make sure our team chemistry is as good as it can be. I'm hopeful to see a lot of options in the leadership of our team as spring goes on. We'll break from spring after six practices, and we'll head to Haiti with another 28-member mission team to go finish up the water project over in Camp Marie in Haiti. Really excited about that. The Freeze Foundation that Jill and I have created is partnering with the Ole Miss family to give to the Ignite fund to send that group over there to finish up the water project to make sure they have fresh water there. We're also partnering with Pinelake Church to send a group to DeSoto in June. We're excited about all the things that are going on and hopeful to continue to build our program to remain at a status nationally that our fans and great university deserve.

On the off-the-field transformation of Chad Kelly: I believe in the nature of kids and giving kids second chances. Obviously I did with Chad. Was it a concern that he could do something that could bring embarrassment? Of course, but I have that concern with every kid that we sign typically because they're kids. Many of us were able to grow up and make mistakes, and my dad kicked me in the rear to get me in line and nobody else really knew about it. In today's time, a kid makes a mistake, it's all over the social media world. The transformation continues. I couldn't be more pleased with what Chad has done on the field and off the field. He just continues to seek the type of man he wants to be known. We refer to that as rewriting his story or writing the end of your story. It's really not about where you start but how you finish. I think right now he's on track to finish well. It's taken a lot of people and a lot of time to invest in him to help him see things from a different perspective and a different light. We met yesterday for probably an hour just to see what do we want to see out of spring ball, you as a leader, you as a player, what things we can to work on and the leadership. What do people want to follow? They're naturally want to follow you because he's a baller. He's an effort guy. He's a rah-rah guy. But we've got to continue to look at things off the field, too, that you can do. He's going to back to Haiti, his choice this year. I didn't force anyone to go this year and I'm not going to make him, but he wants to and he was a champ over there last year. An absolute champ in working with those youngsters in that village, and I think that helps. When you have a spirit of thankfulness and gratefulness for what you have, it's kind of hard to go down the paths of greed and give-me attitudes and the sense of entitlement, the things that we fight constantly. Proud of his progress.

Areas to shore up in spring? We start with the offensive line as always. It seems that's probably going to constantly be a question mark year to year. If you look nationally, I think that is probably the hardest position to make sure, if you're good at that spot, you've got a really good chance if you're good there and have a good quarterback. Obviously this year more than others, it's a bit different. We lost six guys. That's a lot out of offensive line room, but tthe other hand is we really like some of the ones we have. And then there's some that we haven't seen. Michael Howard, he's gained 30 pounds but was injured all last year. Yesterday was his first time to take a snap. We've got a lot of kids that we think we're going to like, but we sure hope after 15 days of practice that we feel like we've improved that position offensively. Defensively I love our defensive line. Depth-wise, we could use one or two there. The biggest question mark would be I think the middle of our defense being at linebacker and the safeties. We lost some really good players. I think we'll be fine at corner, and I'm excited about some of these young safeties, too, that we have. But we'll hopefully feel good at the end of 15 days about it.

On Tony Conner: I have to trust the reports I get obviously, but he's in the pool running. Says he's pain free with that. I believe they're expecting him to start running some straight ahead next week, and we'll see how the knee responds to that when it does. But we're hopeful that he's going to have a fully recovery and be ready to go in the fall. We really need him. Him and Issac Gross would be no question two leaders on the defensive side.

Who's working at OT? The blue group (No. 1 offense), it was Jeremy Liggins at right tackle and Alex Givens at left. Then the second group was Michael Howard at left and Talbot Buys at right.

On Harbaugh/Michigan going down to Florida for spring ball: I’m all for being creative. I give them credit for that. I don't let what other people do bother me too much. I just want to worry about us. I'm not sure how a college coach can be on a high school campus during a quiet period. I don't quite understand that. They're having an open practice I believe tomorrow, and I've actually requested to be allowed to go to it. I want to watch them practice. I don't think I'm going to get that permission to do that. That's the only thing I really don't understand. ... I give them credit for being creative, but there are parts I don't understand.

Any other position changes? We’re rotating the defensive back guys, some are playing some husky, some rover, some free safety, corners. The DBs are going to be DBs, it looks like. Willie Hibbler, we’re going to look at linebacker some. He’s actually broke(n) his hand in off-season workouts and won’t get released until next week. Probably look at him some at linebacker. I don’t think there are any others I can think of right now. Robert Conyers is a tackle. He’s not going to participate. We’re going to get him healthy in spring. Fadol Brown is still out. He’s 11 weeks out of post-op. Herbert Moore, expect him to do drills after spring break. Gross, we’re going to limit what he does. Hibbler’s got the hand. Swinney, he looked good yesterday. Probably not going to have him do any contact until after spring ball. String(fellow), he had the ankle in the Sugar Bowl. He comes back and tweaks it again. He’s probably back until after spring ball also.


Who are some guys at safety? C.J. Hampton, we believe, is going to be a good player. We’re putting both A.J. and C.J. Moore back there also. Armani Linton, ... We really think that (Zedrick Woods) can play a lot of places. He can go from safeties to the husky position. Myles Hartsfield, we’re really excited about him. I don’t want to get too excited until we have some practices, but he’s explosive, he’s long. We think he can play a lot of things. Custis looked really good yesterday also. We’ve got some good young kids. We’ve just got to find out how it is when we start going fast with tempo and motion starts occurring, can they think through it and then perform?

No drama this year at QB. How has Chad handled being the guy in the room? I think he’s handled it well. One thing you won’t have to worry about with him is him feeling like he can coast. That’s not his make-up. Yesterday he wanted to get more reps than he got. I’m wanting to get Jason and Shea in there, and he’s like, ‘I want to go.’ He’ll get to go some. He’ll continue to set a great tone and work ethic for that room.


On approach to tackling in practice: During the season we’re very limited. We do it with the new technology, the new dummies on the tires. We use all that daily in our tackling drills, so we’re having a tackling drill, but we are not tackling each other in the season. I guess I’m still a bit old school in spring. When we put pads on there’s going to be a period where we tackle each other every day. It’s one of the fundamentals. If you’re going to play at a high level you cannot simulate it better than you can in spring practice better than tackling each other. There are techniques we teach that do not involve the hit, which I like, and we work hard on that. We show clips in our team meetings, this is the proper way. They continue to work on those things. Pete Carroll has kind of set a new tone for that kind of tackling with the tackling videos he does. Everyone’s trying to copy that. We’re trying to teach it the proper way, but there’s no, I don’t know that I could be convinced to get away from tackling in spring ball, but in fall camp we’ll do some, but once the season starts we don’t do it.


What would you like to do with Shea Patterson, redshirt or play? That’s so early, I have no idea. I know that he is really, really good. I love his demeanor. I love his leadership qualities. He gets the game. It’s not too fast for him. You’ll see what I’m talking about. He doesn’t even know our terminology yet, but he still has an understanding of how the game goes, but it’s way too early to tell. We’re going to play the ones that help us win for sure, and you never know how injuries are going to factor into that. All three of those guys looked good yesterday.

On Jason Pellerin: He’s got to continue to work on his foot work. He’s got a tremendously strong arm. Love him as a runner. His foot work, there’s times that pressure’s around and he gets a little sloppy with that. That’s not abnormal for a young kid. He didn’t get a lot of reps last year, now all of a sudden he’s got DJ Jones and Breeland Speaks and Marquis Haynes breathing down his neck. You get a little sloppy with your mechanics and he did a little of that yesterday that caused him some bad throws. One of the things I’ve challenged our coaches to do this spring is consider our words carefully and that means we celebrate a little better on the approval side. A lot of times in coaching, our kids do it right and we’re like, ‘Well that’s what we should do,’ instead of celebrating with them. We’ve got to be great teachers on the things we need to improve on. I know Dan will take great pride in trying to teach him as we move on.


Other early enrollees who’ve stood out: No. 95 ... Just know numbers. Benito (Jones) is special. He’s got get-off that’s really special. All those guys competed yesterday, Myles, Greg Eisworth, Charles Wiley showed some flashes. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing, but we ran zone read one time and the guy played the zone, redirected and ran you down because he can run a 4.5 40. I can’t give Kiffin a whole lot of credit on this one. The guy can run. There are also times he goes completely the wrong way on a blitz. That’s to be expected.


How big is it to have Kelly back and what role for new linebackers? I expect Rommel and Dietric to come in and compete right away for the mike linebacker spot. Rommel, we obviously are getting a guy that’s a veteran, a guy that’s played three years of major college football in a power five conference. My evaluation, once we got word that he was released to move on after graduation, I pulled out a film against two of their rivals. That guy plays hard, plays physical. He’s got the stats. WE feel like he may be the guy. I don’t know that for sure. He’s got to come in and earn it like everyone else, and you guys know that’s a place we need help. Our coaches through relationships they formed in the past had some help when kids became available and convinced them this is a great place for them to come.


On Evan Engram: You’ve seen glimpses of his best. We need to find ways to get him the football more next year. Hopefully he’ll stay healthy and have a very solid senior campaign. He did come in under the radar. I think we’ve done a decent job of helping him develop. He wants to gain some weight so he and Paul are working hard on that. Hopefully you see some of his best more consistently because we are finding ways to get him the football.


More on the linebacker spots: Gates, that’s where he needs to be (Stinger). We know Gates can play either, and we’re really happy with his progression, and the way he has really matured and can play either for us. He’s a really really good football player. Shawn Curtis is going to be a good Mike but he’s just young. He’s a deer in the headlights right now. When he hits you its heavy. There are guys that hit you ... This guy he hits you and it’s really really heavy. It would be good for him to learn for a year if he had someone who could play in front of him. Donta Evans I didn’t mention earlier, another linebacker, and Eli Johnson at center is another mid-year. Donta is another one of those linebackers that can play probably either. Too early for us to tell.

On the center position: Sean. Eli. Eli’s at center. Feeley. Those three guys are at center. Once we get everyone here in fall camp Conyers will be prepared to play both as will Sean. We’ll have to see how everybody develops. Jeremy did really good yesterday. He’s worked extremely hard. You’ll see his body has changed even more. The light seems to be coming on a little bit.

With everything going on off the field how good to get back on the field? It’s always good to get back on the field. When you coach that’s what you want to do. You learn that in this profession you better control what you can control and stay focused on that. If not your life is kind of like a roller coaster. You believe in who you are and how you do things, stay true to that and be consistent in your approach to things. You can’t let the other stuff bother you. I talk to our players about everything. If they want to talk about it ... they know who we are. They’ve seen us through recruiting. They’ve seen us in good times and disappointing times. We assure them that we have a lot people that are working on our behalf as a program for any issues that come up off the field.

Return work in spring? Jalen Julius has a really good shot at doing some of that, Tony Bridges, Carlos Davis and Markell Pack were the four that were back there. We signed Tre Nixon who I really think is phenomenal at some of that. We’ll have some good candidates for it.

On the RBs: I think Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins are two really good ones to start with then Eugene Brazley and Eric Swinney I think are really talented kids too. I’m anxious to see Swinney turn loose. DK Buford did some good things yesterday also. I think we’re fine there.

On continuity with the offensive line: I’m always nervous about that position. The defensive lines we face in this league are just so difficult to block. They are so athletic, so big and so strong, it’s very difficult to block. That’s the hardest position for a group of guys to consistently function at. It’s not just an Ole Miss issue. You just look at our league. It’s very difficult to block those defensive fronts consistently. I’m always nervous, but we’ve got a great O line coach in Matt Luke, and he’s going to get the most out of his kids. We really like the kids we signed and we really a lot of the kids we have here now.

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